South Africa has recorded its first case of a Coronavirus infection caused by the new, highly contagious, XBB.1.5 variant.
The Omicron sub-variant, XBB.1.5, was discovered in gene sequencing at Stellenbosch University on Friday, 6 January 2023 from a December 27 sample, Tulio de Oliveira, head of a gene sequencing institute at the university, said on Twitter.
First XBB.1.5 detected in SA today by Stellenbosch University, Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA). XBB.1.5 = 1% (1/97 of recent genomes). Isolate from 27-Dec-2022. Interesting, two others assigned as BA.2.75 with extra Spike F486P mutation. Tweet 1/2
— Tulio de Oliveira (@Tuliodna) January 6, 2023
In a press briefing released on Wednesday, 4 January 2023, Maria Van Kerkhove, Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and Covid-19 technical lead at the World Health Organisation (WHO), called XBB.1.5 “the most transmissible sub-variant” detected so far in the pandemic.
At the moment, there is no evidence that XBB.1.5 is more severe than any other omicron variants in its symptoms, it is, however, more contagious due to the mutations it has that allow the “virus to adhere to the cell and replicate easily,” according to Van Kerkhove.
A statement from the WHO with an updated assessment of the variant’s risk will be released in the coming days.
The variant is nicknamed “Kraken” because of its ability to spread and mutate and has now been detected in at least 28 countries, according to WHO.
de Oliveira said, “It’s yet to be identified in China, which is currently undergoing a surge in infections after relaxing strict controls that limited the impact of previous waves of Covid in the country. No impact on cases, hospitalisations or deaths have been seen in South Africa so far.”